mommypig Posts

In case you haven’t put it together from reading about my repeatedly patching the inner thighs of my jeans and marching around the neighborhood with a gaping crotch hole in my exercise capris, I will just straight-up tell you: I am a hot mess. My family and I are used to this state of affairs and had been getting by (one day at a time) until an unexpected opportunity shone a spotlight on the steaming disaster that is my wardrobe — and my self-image.

It all started last month when I received an email invitation to apply for a work-from-home editor position at a local publishing company. That very morning my daily devotional had discussed not wasting one’s talents — something that I worry about a lot as an unemployed mother in a household where money is always tight. I adore staying home with my children and have relished being able to focus solely on disappointing them since the magazine I had copyedited for the past 14 years ceased publishing, but the timing made me think this new opportunity might be God’s calling me to do something more. So I updated my résumé (realizing I needed to add my email address to the antiquated format), researched how the kids are writing cover letters in the new millennium and then turned my attention to my most unnerving concern: costuming.

I have never been good at the professional-woman charade. (Surprise!) At the end of my final semester as a magazine-journalism major in college, my classmates and I had to dress up and present our portfolios to a panel of professors as if we were at a job interview. I wore a flowy boho frock my mom had sewn, prompting my instructor to tactfully comment that my “style” (as if my getup were anything more intentional than a desperate attempt to camouflage my girth) might be OK for a creative position but that I’d probably need to wear something more conservative in a corporate setting. Fast-forward 25 years and I have a closet full of flowy church-lady skirts and hard-worn jeans — nothing remotely appropriate for the workplace. I was going to have to break down and buy myself some pants. Dress Barn, here I come!

The pants turned out surprisingly flattering for having been bought in a “Barn,” and when I got them home I realized why: The front pockets were pretend. I’d heard about this phenomenon from a friend who’d recently reentered the pants market, but I never dreamed what a difference that design innovation could make. It turns out the reason I look so portly in jeans isn’t my spare tires; it’s all those unsightly functional pockets!

In retrospect I don’t know whether my fancy pants actually looked that svelte or my vision was blurred from their eye-watering chemical-dye odor. After laundering, they still stunk and also developed some weird spots where either the detergent didn’t get completely rinsed out or the dye faded. I tried wiping the spots with a damp paper towel and the dye stained the towel. Great. So in addition to feeling self-conscious about my stench at the interview, now I had to worry about keeping my rump dry and avoiding any white chairs. This kind of pressure is why I don’t leave the house.

After much agonizing over my dearth of professional-lady tops and footwear, I finally cobbled together an ensemble that I hoped made me look like I had half a clue. Then it was time to wipe the quarter inch of dust off my portfolio and pull together some writing samples. And that was when I discovered something even more surprising than the slimming effect of pocketless pants: I’d written some pretty good stuff. In the 16 years that I’ve been home forgetting to put detergent in the washer, sending people off to dental appointments on the wrong day and failing to turn in permission slips on time, I’d forgotten that I used to write long, complex articles about veterinary practices (I even traveled by myself and spent days observing, taking notes and interviewing doctors) as well as manage the daily operations of various magazines. I have since grown accustomed to thinking of myself as a lazy, disorganized scatterbrain. But the thought that I once WAS competent gave me hope that maybe, with my new pants, I could be again.

So it was with renewed confidence that I went to my first job interview since 1998. Despite my dismay at learning it was only for screening purposes and there would be a follow-up (dammit — ANOTHER outfit!), it went well. If only I could say the same for the second interview. As I learned more about the responsibilities and challenges of the position, my self-assurance faltered, and at one point the interviewer said, “You have a scared look on your face.” You would too, lady, if you’d seen the premonition I just had of attempting to carry on a conference call while my 5-year-old pulls down her pants and asks me to have a look around down there for no reason that I can comprehend. Because that kind of shit goes on here ALL THE TIME. (And you people wonder why my brain is broken.)

Though I was pretty sure I didn’t want the job in light of the aforementioned scenario, the next day I worked diligently to craft a thank-you email that attempted to salvage the interview. Then I rested assured that I had done all I could do to faithfully pursue the opportunity and left the rest in God’s hands, trusting that if it were God’s will for me to get the job, God would enable me to do it despite all the potential problems and Maribeth’s inevitable nudity.

It is without the slightest disappointment that I report I am still unemployed. The money would have been nice, but the freedom to devote all my mental faculties to letting down my family (no, I didn’t wash your black leggings and yes, we are seriously out of Cheez-Its) is priceless. Plus, every day is casual Friday.

Faith (awkward) Fat pants

When it comes to cell phones, Chris and I have chosen what I think of as the naughty-Amish approach: We do own them, but they are humble devices to be used only when necessary (the definition of which is obviously open to interpretation, as I can’t remember the last time I made a Walmart run without an urgent call from Kate to request an emergency refill of Cheez-Its). Chris and I have cheap smartphones; the girls inherited our old flip phones (which Kate refuses to carry because it’s “too embarrassing”), and we buy enough prepaid minutes that no one is left incommunicado out among the English. The upside: We spend less than $100 a year, and if I call or text you on my cell phone, you know that I like you enough to spend 30 cents. The downside is that I pay anytime a sleezebag texts me spam or someone misdials and calls my number. (Also, my kids think we are unbearably lame, but that was bound to happen.)

Recently Chris’ friend gave us his old smartphone when he upgraded, and I finally gathered the strength to visit the T-Mobile store to get a SIM card. As soon as I walked in, a representative I’ll call Craig (because he reminded me of Billy Eichner’s character on Parks and Recreation) greeted me and asked how he could help. I explained that I needed a SIM card for a phone we’d been given and then tried to politely convey that we were a family of prepaid-minute-loving rubes and it would be fruitless for him to try to sell me any kind of plan. He was nice enough and told me that when we were ready to step up to $120 a month for the best plan in the business, he’d set me up. Then he proceeded to punch in the thousands of numbers it evidently takes to activate a cell phone with $10 worth of minutes, all the while chatting about how he had bought several of these same phones and set up a WiFi hotspot and a bunch of other stuff I didn’t understand. I nodded and smiled, wondering how much of customers’ $120 a month went toward keeping the store’s thermostat set at I’m guessing 85 degrees.

While I waited, Craig talked about how he often serves customers who bought Family Mobile plans at Walmart (which, he explained, pays to use the T-Mobile brand) and were misinformed by the salespeople there. Then he told me about the time he saw a Family Mobile representative wearing a genuine T-Mobile shirt and asked him if he worked for T-Mobile. He said yes, so Craig asked for his store code. The imposter revealed the code — and, unwittingly, his filthy lie: Craig informed him that he was several digits off and obviously not a real T-Mobile employee. Which meant he definitely should not have been wearing that shirt. I was surprised, not having realized that working in a T-Mobile store was such a lofty calling and the uniforms were sacred garments.

Finally it was time to pay, and after I swiped my credit card, Craig asked to see my driver’s license and scanned it. Curious, I asked why he needed to verify my ID for the phone (thinking it was some kind of government tracking strategy like the one that keeps tabs on my Sudafed purchases), and he said it was because my credit card didn’t have my picture on it and I hadn’t signed it. “Oh, I guess I should sign that,” I said, feeling even more doltish than usual. “It’s my job to be really observant,” Craig said, completing my transaction and then highlighting the wrong printout. He soon recognized and rectified his mistake, handed me my paperwork and wished me well.

As soon as I got in my horse-drawn buggy (OK, it’s a minivan — shun me), I pulled out the newly activated phone and attempted to call my old cell phone. Twice a recording informed me that I wasn’t allowed to call that number. I reviewed my receipt and saw that it said I had purchased zero minutes.

To his credit, Craig met me at the door and asked what had gone wrong. When I explained, he confessed that this kind of thing happened all the time. I almost reassured him that I knew that from experience because every time I have activated a phone with T-Mobile it has been a MESS, but I didn’t want to be rude — or to spend one more second than I had to in that sauna of a store. A few hundred keystrokes later, Craig had applied the $10 worth of minutes I paid for earlier to my account like a BOSS. When I later looked at the back of my credit card and saw that it was indeed signed, I could only assume his misobservation was a hallucination produced by a combination of the heat and the intense pressure of his cutthroat work environment. I hope the shirt is worth it.


I’m not Room Mom material, a fact that has never been more apparent than now. School parties have always terrified me — how can you expect to feed and entertain that many kids without provoking mutiny? When Ella and Kate were in elementary school, the answer seemed to lie in providing a vast array of treats (and at every celebration I died a little inside as barely nibbled cupcakes and platefuls of untouched cookies, grapes and Doritos were thrown in the trash). Once students reached the fourth grade, the teachers let them plan their own parties, which involved brainstorming sessions where 80 kids named every food they had ever enjoyed and then assigned their parents to produce a feast of donuts, Pizza Rolls, brownies, Bagel Bites, chips and queso, Oreos, Lil’ Smokies, etc., etc., etc. I always thought the excess sent the wrong message to our overprivileged little revelers, but buying a box of Velveeta and a can of Rotel was easier than bucking the system — or planning crafts and games — so I let it slide.

Maribeth’s preschool parties proved more reasonable: one or two sweet treats and a healthy option (or not — nobody missed the baby carrots when they got to decorate their own cookies with frosting). Little did I know these sugar-fueled festivities were building expectations that would later lead to heartbreak.

The morning of Maribeth’s fiercely anticipated kindergarten fall party, she told me how excited she was for the treats. But when she saw them — a peeled orange made to look like a pumpkin and a “broom” made of a small piece of string cheese and a straight pretzel — she literally had to leave the classroom to weep, and I didn’t blame her. I mean, she’s a notoriously finicky eater, but come on:  an ORANGE? (She wasn’t the only disappointed partygoer; I nearly snorted when one little boy asked, “You got anything else?”) I sat in the hall with Maribeth, imagining the other mothers’ judgment over how I had allowed her to become such a monster as I tried to console her with promises of a real treat after school. Then when the party was over, each child received a fancy frosted pumpkin-shaped sugar cookie in a bag to take home. I thought, Good grief, if you’d just handed out the cookies at treat time, we could have saved SO MANY TEARS.

In an attempt to avert similar trauma at the winter party, I volunteered (via e-mail) to bring sugar cookies, explaining that my reason was so Maribeth wouldn’t freak out over unfamiliar foods. I offered to bring frosting so the kids could decorate the cookies but said I would skip it if the other moms thought it was too messy. During the deafening silence that followed, I envisioned the other mothers in the e-mail chain rolling their eyes at my desperate attempts to appease my horrifically spoiled little princess. Several days later, the Room Mom’s e-mail summarizing who had signed up for what said: “Ami — cookies and icing… Maybe to take home???” (Because what kind of parent lets children eat cookies at a party???)

Since I loathe confrontation, my first inclination was to give in to the pressure not to serve the cookies during the festivities. But that made bringing them pointless and meant I would have to explain to Maribeth, “You may not like the food at the party; if not, you’ll just have to wait and eat your cookie when we get home.” (AGAIN.) Reassured by friends that it was reasonable for kids to have a variety of food choices, I resolved to bring my offering (tiny ready-to-bake cookies that wouldn’t cause nut-allergy concerns) on a plate — without take-home bags.

Naturally, the day before the party, Maribeth announced that she didn’t like those cookies. Because OF COURSE. I told her it was too late to switch because I’d already had them approved by the teacher and anyway, they were just like the Frozen cookies that she had loved a couple of months ago. When I arrived at the party, I put my sugary abominations on the food table next to the popcorn (which Maribeth hates) and the strawberry “Santa hats” (also inedible by her standards). At snack time, people put one cookie on each plate with the popcorn and the strawberries as if it were completely normal to give kids sweets at a party. All of the children who weren’t mine liked the cookies (one little girl asked for the recipe); Maribeth ended up eating one tiny nibble and then throwing hers away — but without any tears. Thankfully, a mom who had witnessed Maribeth’s agony at the fall party had brought single-serving bags of pretzels and offered one to her, and to my shock, she was delighted.

Lest I think I had gotten away with my evil scheme, however, after snack time the mom who had brought the popcorn said regretfully, “I can always tell when they’ve had sugar,” and the Room Mom replied, “I just think it makes them hyper and then grumpy.” I guess they wanted to make sure I realized that I had poisoned their children.

I do feel bad. I feel bad that I haven’t been able to cure Maribeth’s picky eating (despite her year in a special preschool program that forced students to try new foods daily). Maybe I have coddled her too much. I feel bad that food is so emotionally laden for both of us. I feel bad that I assume other mothers are constantly judging me based on my appearance (I know I look like a cautionary tale for girls who are overly fond of dessert) and my kid’s behavior. I feel bad that a kindergarten party turned into a power struggle (in my mind, anyway) and exposed how petty, immature and desperately people-pleasing I am. But I’m not sorry that when push came to shove, the person I chose to try to please was my child. Even if she thought the cookies sucked.

And I felt somewhat vindicated in my sugar-pushing when another mom posted a photo from her kindergartener’s celebration on Facebook.



Now THAT’S a party.


Parenting (sloppily)

Once I wore sandals to a friend’s house and her dog licked my toes the entire time I was there. (I can hardly type that sentence without gagging.) I am not a dog person — or any kind of animal person, really; I enjoy birds, bunnies and horses with my eyes, but when I was a child my mother’s constant injunctions to wash my hands after petting any animal pretty much destroyed my ability to love the filthy creatures. Every dog I meet seems to sense my emotional unavailability and, like women who chase broken men, thinks that it is The One who will fix me, but I am incurable. So I sit or stand awkwardly, refusing to sully my fingers by touching the varmint and thinking about how I can’t wait to get home and change my clothes/scour my toes while trying to wordlessly convey “It’s not you; it’s me” as the pet’s owner undoubtedly thinks, “What is the matter with you?”

Until now I have always wondered why people didn’t just keep their pets off me in the first place. (Recently I was relieved to be in a home where the owner advised me to not even make eye contact with the “psycho cat” — that is always my preference anyway.) But this week the script got flipped and I was the one who failed to restrain an overly affectionate little beast. My tragically childless friends (I say “tragically” because they are smart, funny, attractive, good-hearted people whose genes could benefit mankind but have so far elected not to procreate — and probably never will after their experience at my house) were visiting, and despite having met them only once or twice before, Maribeth instantly promoted them to honorary aunt and uncle, which may sound adorable but which I suspect was terrifying. Aunt A. at least had some time to warm up; Maribeth read to her, serenaded her by ukulele and regaled her with anecdotes before forcing her to participate in medical checkups, breathing exercises and incomprehensible “gymnastics,” but Uncle B. arrived late in the day and got straight-up body-slammed almost immediately. Maribeth demonstrated that all she really wants for Christmas is a manservant who will offer unlimited piggyback rides and serve as her own personal jungle gym, and Uncle B. obeyed every order (while Aunt A. and I implored her not to break him).

At the time, Maribeth’s enthusiasm struck me as funny and endearing (and a big step forward, considering that she used to scream and cry every time someone unfamiliar — even extended family — came into our home), but in retrospect I wonder if I should have caged her. I get it now, pet owners: You love your furry little minions so much that you can’t imagine why everyone else wouldn’t. From now on, I will try to follow my friends’ example in cheerfully enduring unwanted advances. And to Uncle B. and Aunt A., should you ever again brave our abode, I promise at the very least to prevent Maribeth from licking your toes.

Parenting (sloppily)

Last week I was making the faux Reese’s peanut butter bars that might be the only thing keeping Chris from getting his own apartment somewhere quiet when a stupid slip-up changed the fabric of our lives forever.

Maribeth was happily smashing graham crackers with a rolling pin beside me when I reached into the over-the-range microwave to pull out a bowl of melted butter. What happened next is a greasy blur; all I know for sure is that somehow the bowl tipped, splashing Maribeth, me, the stove, the floor and the wall. My downright manly “DAAAMMMNNN IT!!!” struck Maribeth as hilarious. Thank God she wasn’t old enough to make a “butter fingers” joke or I would have burst into flames.

During the hour or so I spent finishing the cursed dessert and wiping/mopping (but not before Maribeth got to experience the joy of butter-skating on a vinyl floor), I kept mentally busy debating whether I’d rather clean up butter or urine (and the winner is: urine!), consoling myself that at least this time I wasn’t sopping up raw sewage while cooking dinner, and listening to the angel on one shoulder battle the devil on the other for my soul.

Angel: “You have the opportunity to handle this situation with grace. Remember that scene in The Shack when Jesus spilled the salad all over the floor and he and God and the Holy Spirit just laughed and cleaned it up together? You can choose to react with humor and a cheerful attitude and set a positive example for your kids.”

Devil: “PLEASE. First of all, you are not Jesus. Second, there’s a big difference between the three persons of the Holy Trinity working together to pick up some lettuce and your having to clean up a gigantic greasy mess all by yourself. That is just not fair. And speaking of unfair, you don’t even like these stupid peanut butter bars, do you? Here you are, trying to do something nice for Chris, and look what it got you. Cleaning up this nasty catastrophe is going to take FOREVER, and those clothes are going to be PERMANENTLY STAINED. It’s just infuriating, isn’t it? And look at those kids over there giggling. You’d better storm around so they’ll GET that this is a DISASTER and THERE IS NOTHING FUNNY ABOUT IT!”

Me: “You win, Devil.”

Devil: “Ha ha — you’re a spiritual fiasco.”

Once the kitchen was “clean,” I stripped off our butter-splattered clothes and scrubbed the spots with Dawn before laundering them and bathing Maribeth. My long personal nightmare was finally over.

And then I noticed the splotches on the kitchen drapes. I thought about just saying, “Well, I guess now we have butter-stained curtains,” but eventually decided that that I couldn’t abide. It was too late to launder the curtains lest some peeper enjoy an up-close-and-personal view of my late-night emotional eating, so I scrubbed the spots with Dawn, sprayed them with Shout and left them for the morning. Then I sprayed them again and laundered them in warm water. They came out of the washer like this:


MELTED. Just like the butter that ruined our lives.

You may not be able to tell from the picture, but these drapes were special. Our west-facing kitchen (which I think of as “Hell’s kitchen” not just because of the filth and the food but also the temperature) has two 78-inch-tall windows, so we needed drapes with a thermal backing. The problem is that the curtain rod had to be installed above the center door’s trim, so the curtains need to be 86 inches long instead of the standard 84. I solved this by stitching tabs and a decorative valance onto store-bought kids’-bedroom drapes (because apparently most grown women do not want hot-pink curtains in their kitchens) so they would not only be long enough but also reflect my certain je ne sais quoi. And now my custom creations were DESTROYED. (I could hear the devil squealing with glee.)

The saga of the replacement curtains is too long and tedious to recount here (yes, believe it or not, I DO have limits — you’re welcome), but at least it has an unhappy ending. If I valued the time I spent shopping, agonizing, designing and sewing, the new curtains would be worth about $4,000. Yet I find I do not particularly like them. Which is probably for the best, considering how much I enjoy being married and how much Chris enjoys peanut butter bars. The next greasy calamity is just waiting to strike.


Homemaking (half-assed)

Dear God WHY did we even get out of bed this morning? I could have called in sick for all of us and we’d all feel SO MUCH BETTER.

I knew it was going to be a rough morning when I stayed up till midnight futzing around online, but I needed some me-time after twice having to yell at the neighbor kids to quit screaming and riding their Big Wheels in our driveway because I needed MY kids to GO TO SLEEP. It was only after the little barbarians finally piped down around 9:30 (and I informed Maribeth that no, even though it sounded like a total blast, we weren’t going to just go ahead and stay up all night) that I realized it was the stupid lunar eclipse that had the neighborhood grade-schoolers carrying on like a bunch of frat boys. Call me jaded, but I saw the pictures on Facebook and somehow the wonder of it all escapes me. What I think is beautiful and amazing is when everyone shuts the hell up and goes to bed. Especially when the kids have already been off school for three days.

So to quell my rage I finished off the candy corn and tiptoed into the Twitterverse (wowing exactly two people with my witty observations about the latest episode of Fear the Walking Dead, so: time well spent) only to be shaken awake after an hour’s sleep because Maribeth was having a nightmare about some Humpty Dumpty story she saw on Sesame Street. (Other terrifying dreams that have recently required my wee-hours consolation have featured a boy who fell into something and turned green and a kitten that spat in Maribeth’s face. You think that’s scary, little girl? Just wait until you see the depravity and stupidity allegedly human beings spew on Twitter. It’s positively apocalyptic.)

Staying up late and being up in the night are exciting awake-time bonuses for Maribeth (whose motto seems to be: “The early bird gets THE WORLD!!!”). I cannot think of anything that would even once compel me to arise with the Christmas-morning-level enthusiasm she exhibits at 6:50 every day. Kate, on the other hand: not so much. And this morning she informed me that she almost wept getting out of bed, so excruciating was the mysterious shoulder ailment that has plagued her ever since Friday night’s sleepover party, during which she stayed up until 5 a.m. and then dozed in a recliner. I didn’t think I could possibly feel less joy about greeting the day until I realized this morning’s activities would include a visit to the walk-in clinic. But they’ve probably missed us there; after all, it has been three whole months.

The practitioner at the clinic didn’t quite know what to make of Kate’s agony; her eyes widened when Kate described her pain as “like someone is trying to separate my arm from my body” and “like I am being stabbed,” and I wished I would have surreptitiously prepared her for Kate’s propensity to use “spicy words” (for which her language arts teachers have commended her but which can seem alarming to the uninitiated; had the practitioner heard Kate say that getting out of the van felt “like I’m being set on fire,” she might have had a bit more perspective). She ended up prescribing stretches, Aleve and a muscle relaxant, the generic version of which cost $50. (Really? All because she slept in a chair?) I consoled myself that that was the cost of one chiropractic visit, and based on Ella’s flute-finger experience, I imagine a chiropractor would have recommended multiple treatments — probably a lifetime care plan if he/she had taken Kate’s account of her suffering at face value.

Despite Kate’s vivid imagery, the doctor operated on the assumption that she would be attending school today, and so did I, although I felt like the meanest mom EVER as I forced her to finish her lunch, load up her backpack and brave the last three hours of her day despite her assertions that even so much as moving her hand to write would be sheer torture. “I know you don’t want to go, but sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do,” I sagely said, hating myself and our whole broken world — not to mention the sick feeling I get whenever one of my kids is miserable. Little did I know I’d soon get to double down on the nausea when Maribeth clung to me and cried at kindergarten drop-off because a substitute was teaching today (oh, the horror!).

Empathy, you make me feel like someone is eviscerating me Braveheart-style and pulling my still-beating heart from my body and showing it to me as Magua did to Colonel Munro in The Last of the Mohicans. It’s enough to give a girl nightmares.

Parenting (sloppily)

An open apology to all who attended my wedding 22 years ago:

First of all, THE DATE. August 28. In Kansas. Who does that? No, I really wasn’t trying to find a reason to live through the dog days of summer. Chris had originally suggested October, but I wanted to seal the deal before he had a chance to escape. I also thought I needed to consider the production schedule of the magazine I worked for. Future brides: Do not do this. Your coworkers will survive your absence. No amount of employer goodwill is worth a lifetime of having your anniversary fall on your children’s back-to-school nights.

Next, THE CEREMONY. If you only knew how out-of-control that whole affair was. By default rather than any real religious conviction, we held it at the church I had attended since childhood (but not so much in my young adulthood). The pastor moved just prior to our wedding (but not before forcing us to participate in an excruciating “counseling” session during which he said he knew I was from “a good family” but he didn’t know Chris and so maybe there were some sins he needed to confess? That is ALL I remember from that interlude; thanks for the words of wisdom, Pastor). He arranged for another minister we’d never met to officiate the wedding; our one “counseling” session with him a week before the big day was equally dreadful and had me agitated over whether he was going to toss “obey” into my wedding vows. He didn’t, but he did include the whole “wives, submit to your husbands” line in his LONG sermon. The highlight was when he introduced us as “Mister and Misserusses Chris Johnson.” We didn’t even kiss; we just fled.

THE RECEPTION VENUE. The Spring Hill Community Center — just as elegant as you might expect. What can I say? It was affordable, and the bright-orange plastic chairs were included. Who could have predicted that the air conditioner would fail? (It took me forever to find out that had happened; I just kept thinking, “Wow, this veil is really HOT.”) Sorry that all those black candles I thought were so cool made the atmosphere even more hellish.

THE DANCING. Chris and I don’t dance. We had never danced together before our wedding reception. Performing our debut in front of you all was mortifying, which was why I kept inviting (begging) you to join us on the dance floor. Only years later did it occur to me that we could have had a dance-free reception. A special apology for the horrifyingly tacky Dollar Dance: I would have gladly paid you all not to dance with me.

THE GARTER TOSS. Another awful tradition followed because I thought it was required. First, I was afraid I was going to blow out the best man’s knee when I perched on it. Second, I was terrified of how much of my heavy legs were going to be revealed in the removal process. Third, I was worried that I wouldn’t get back my special “Love Me Tender”-emblazoned garter that came from Graceland. (I did, but as it turns out, the man who caught the garter remains a bachelor to this day. So it was all for naught.)

THE GUEST LIST. If you were a coworker, an extended family member from out of town or a friend of our parents, I am sorry you felt obligated to attend our sweltering little shindig. If I had it to do over again, I would have subjected only close family and friends to our nuptials. You could have had the day to yourself and wouldn’t have had a buy a gift, and I could have relaxed with people I felt comfortable with instead of flitting about in an awkward attempt to grace everyone with my bridal presence. As a special bonus, I would not have had strange men kissing me all evening. (Seriously, what the hell, guys?)

I have many other regrets: the manicure I scheduled the morning of the wedding (and immediately destroyed while getting into the car); the lack of thought I put into the decorations, flowers and music (my theme was basically “whatever”); the long-sleeve bridesmaids’ dresses IN AUGUST (I’m lucky those girls still speak to me); the ridiculous photo poses I submitted to. But my choice of groom has never been one of them. So to all of you who bore sweaty witness to our union, I hope it pleases you to know that your generosity was not in vain. Thank you for the gift of your presence, and we promise not to invite you to any vow-renewal ceremonies.


Personal (ew)

For years I have dyed my own hair (because why pay a professional upwards of $40 when you can do it yourself for $9 — and ruin your carpet in the process?) with fairly decent results: More than one strange (and I do mean strange) man has approached me to compliment the color (what greater indicator of success is there?), and one time a guy at Walmart asked me to show him which box I used because it was the exact color his wife wanted. It felt good to be able to save their marriage, although I seriously question that woman’s judgment; I would never entrust Chris with picking out a new hue for my head. That decision is for me to agonize over alone. But if you are interested in my process (and who wouldn’t be?), here is the inner monologue I experienced the last time I bought a box of hair dye:

Look at that one: “Flaming Reds” — I want to be aflame! “Developed with Claudia Schiffer.” Hmmm. I didn’t realize Claudia was a chemist. Or that she knew anything about red hair. But look at that shiny picture! Hold it up next to the usual box. Wow — this makes my regular color look like an Irish setter that rolled in the mud.

But what if it turns out weird and beetish like last time I strayed? Better compare it with that regrettable shade. No, this is much less violet. Hold it up to the regular box again. Yes, this really is much more vibrant. Of course, it does cost a dollar more. Is it worth a dollar AND the risk that strange men will no longer come a-calling?

What the hell — live on the edge. How bad can it be? I mean, it’s CLAUDIA FREAKING SCHIFFER.


The gloves come in a little packet? Fancy. Ooooh, they’re so ROOMY! The gloves that came with my old dye always made me feel like O.J. I’ve got to hand it to you, Claudia: You know how to treat a full-fingered lady.

Time to squirt. WTF??? This stuff looks like pureed carrots. It is certainly staining my scalp effectively. Thank God I didn’t do this before back-to-school night. This can’t end well. I’m going to have traffic-cone-orange roots and dark-orange dirty-Irish-setter ends. At least the ombre look is in. Or is it? Probably not now that I know about it.

Let’s look at that box again. What exactly was Claudia’s contribution?  “…[T]he formulas combine her beauty insights from runway shows and fashion shoots….” Oh, THAT’S reassuring. When have you seen a runway-show hairdo and thought, “You know who that would look good on? A frumpy, middle-aged suburban mom.” You really didn’t think this through, did you?

Well, it may turn out looking ridiculous, but at least it promises to be long-lasting.


Epilogue: Despite my initial reservations, somehow the color ended up looking just as it did on the box — so fabulous that no one in my family noticed. Claudia, I’ll never doubt you again.


Personal (ew)

Oh, hello, Late-Night Emotional Eating. I thought you moved out years ago. What’s that? You were just away at college? And now you’re back. Awesome.

How long are you planning on staying? Till I get my life together. Hmmm. Let’s have another Fudge Stripe so we don’t have to think about that. Oh look — broken ones! They make it so easy to lose count. Denial is the best.

You know what would be good after those Fudge Stripes? Potato chips. Funny thing: I used to not even like potato chips! Oprah would talk about going to town on a bag of potato chips and I’d think, “Yuck. Have you HAD Doritos?” But ever since you came back, they sound really good. Especially with some of that extra-sharp cheddar cheese in the fridge…

WOW that’s a lot of salt. I’ll be lucky to be able to squeeze into my flip-flops tomorrow. Tomorrow — ugh. Another day to feel bad about not exercising. Let’s not think about THAT. You know, I did actually work out today. First time in 15 days. But I can already tell it’s not happening tomorrow. Don’t want to overdo it. Moderation, my friend. Except where you’re concerned, of course.

So really, why ARE you back? I honestly thought you were a distant memory. You know we’re not good for each other. Not that I don’t enjoy spending time with you, especially when I have to wait up for Ella to get home. It’s nice to have company, and you’re so quiet and undemanding. Kind of comforting, really. As long as I don’t think about how sweaty I’ll probably get when I sleep tonight. Gross. I hate summer. So. Much.

You remember what Dr. Phil said about us all those years ago? That we just want to have a party in our mouths. That judgy bastard. Every time I think about that I want to wolf down a row of Oreos for spite. And Joy Bauer from the Today show — I’d like to snap her over my knee like a twig except her bones are probably too strong because you can bet she gets plenty of calcium. Well, with all the cheese I’ve been eating (it’s practically been the Summer of George around here, except not shirtless — I do have SOME dignity), at least I shouldn’t have to worry about osteoporosis. As if I ever did. Please. Brittle bones are the least of my problems. Have you seen this place? Careful stepping over the dollhouse and the princesses and the horse-and-carriage and the magic markers, because if you fall down on that linoleum you’re going to stick there. On the bright side, at least you’ll find enough granola-bar crumbs and stray Chicken in a Biskits to stay well-fed.

Speaking of well-fed, yes, something lemony DOES sound good right about now, but we are done for tonight. The mouth party’s over, old friend. I still don’t know why you’re here, and I understand that you might be hanging around until summer break ends, but once we get back on a schedule, I’m going to have to insist that you move on. Have you ever thought about grad school? Me neither. That sounds hard, and I don’t like hard things. Obviously.

Let’s not talk anymore. Surely there’s something interesting on the Internets. NOOOOOOOOOO NOT PINTEREST — all those damn recipe pictures make me feel like I haven’t eaten in days. Here we go, good old Facebook. Surely there’s some inspirational message about forgiving ourselves for gluttony and slovenliness. Thank God it’s too late for people to be bragging about their workouts. Oh look, another ad for those mouth-numbing MealEnders lozenges. “We all know how easy it is to get carried away.” YES WE DO. Of course, I’d probably get carried away with the MealEnders and wind up an incoherent, drooling mess. And then chew off my tongue on the potato chips anyway. Because no amount of weird lozenges can numb the feelings.

Good night, old friend. See you tomorrow.

Fat pants Personal (ew)

Birthday-girl Kate: “Mom, what were you doing at this time 12 years ago?”

Me: “Lying in bed in agony, wondering how long it would be until we could go to the hospital.”

Twelve years ago. So many details of that day remain vivid in my memory: half-watching Gangs of New York on TV in the wee hours (I still associate Cameron Diaz with suffering); worrying about my parents’ meeting us at the hospital so we could hand off 3-year-old Ella before things got too gruesome; changing into the hospital gown to get checked and desperately hoping they wouldn’t make me put my clothes back on and go home; the sense of bliss when Stadol (yes, I am that much of a wuss) washed away not only the pain but also my feelings about Chris’ turning on the NASCAR race in the delivery room. (What I wouldn’t give to be hooked up to an opioid IV every time he watches sports.)

But what I remember most about that day — and what strikes me every time I look at the hospital photos — is how Kate shone joy into our misery.

A week before Kate was born, my mother had started chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. The woman who passed on to me a compulsion for daily hair washing had abstained from washing hers for seven days because she knew that once she did, it would fall out. She was still recovering from a hysterectomy and felt weak and sick. Our whole family was devastated by her diagnosis. But that afternoon, anguish was eclipsed by delight, hope and love.

Kate 1 Kate 3

Kate 2 Kate 4

(Clearly, squirrelliness runs in the family.)

Kate has lived up to the promise she showed that day, giving us plenty to delight in during the last 12 years. She is loving, kind, smart, hilarious and passionate about justice — and fame. Not satisfied with merely providing material for many, many Facebook updates, she has longed to be featured in a blog post of her own. In honor of all the joy she has brought our family (and my Facebook friends), here are a some of Kate’s greatest hits:

Aug. 2, 2009
Rather than wheedling her daddy for a “shoulderback” ride to bed, 6-year-old Kate takes the direct approach: “Get up, you lazy sack!”

Sept. 8, 2009
Kate: “Life was terrible in your day. I would have been so depressed to be a kid in your day.” (All because we had no Troy Bolton dolls.)

Sept. 25, 2009
Kate’s written answer to the question “What’s the worst thing you ever ate?”: “Kaserl”

Oct. 7, 2009
Kate [seeing my new dress]: “Oh my!”
Me: “What?”
Kate: “I’d rather not say.”

Oct. 14, 2009
Kate’s response when I suggested we all sit in the living room: “I’ll pass on the ‘being together’ part.”

Oct. 24, 2009
One of the questions on the handwritten form I had to fill out to be “registrated” for Kate’s dance show in our living room: “Do you have a gun?”

Oct. 31, 2009
Kate [upon learning that her dad was adopted as a baby]: “Mom, were you adopted?”
Me: “No.”
Kate: “Was Ella adopted?”
Me: “No.”
Kate: “Awwww! That would’ve been awesome.”

Dec. 24, 2009
Kate [learning she will have a baby sister in May]: “Does Dad know about this?”

March 8, 2010
Kate [watching the Oscars’ musical opening number]: “People, think of the children — put some clothes on!”

April 6, 2010
Kate [after I yelped twice twice and explained that the baby had kicked really hard in utero]: “Twice?”
Me: “Yes.”
Kate: “Good, she’ll know how to treat Ella.”

June 16, 2010
Me [in an attempt to get Maribeth to coo]: “Do you have a story for me?”
Kate [with bitterness far beyond her 6 years]: “I have a story for you. Once upon a time I broke my CD player.”

July 2, 2010
Kate’s response to the news that a freshman or sophomore may attend prom only if invited by a junior or senior: “Trust me: A lot of older boys will invite me.”

July 13, 2010
Kate [as we followed a swine-stuffed semi on the highway]: “This is — I’m just going to say it one time — the best pig-butt day ever.”

July 15, 2010
Kate’s running commentary during America’s Got Talent: “I would never vote for them — they’re shirtless.” “He’s too beardy.” “I don’t like puffy-hair dudes or mohawk dudes, so those two are out of the question.”

Aug. 20, 2010
Kate [in her syrupy sing-song voice reserved for the baby]: “Oh, Maribeth, what’s the matter? You need to man up.”

Sept. 15, 2010
Kate: “How old will you be when I’m 20?”
Me: “54.”
Kate: “That’s not that old. You’ll still have about 50 years of life left. Unless you get shot or something.”

Oct. 6, 2010
Me [dictating spelling words to Kate and using them in a sentence]: “PRETTY. Kate is very PRETTY.”
Kate: “You got that right.”

Oct. 14, 2010
Kate: “Mommy, I’m kind of like class reporter, since I’m the door holder, and Miss G. wants to know if kids are jumping up and touching the flag and doing stuff that’s inappropriate.”
Me: “Have you had to tell on a lot of people?”
Kate: “OH yeah.” [Reported infractions included “burping ‘thank you’” and “making bad choices like saying, ‘I’m going to kill you.’”]

Dec. 7, 2010
Kate’s reaction to the remorse her classmate showed after being remanded to the “safe seat” for throwing glues and pencils: “It’s not as fun that you’d think, seeing a boy cry.”

Dec. 25, 2010
Kate [upon finding the chunk of cookie Santa failed to finish]: “Sniff it and see if it smells like his beard!”

Aug. 1, 2011
Kate [thrilled to tell Ella all about Miley Cyrus’ 2009 pole-dancing antics]: “… And that is what we call ‘trashy.’”

April 25, 2012
Kate [discovering classic fairy tales]: “‘The Brave Little Tailor’ is pretty good — it’s about honesty and faithfulness…. All ‘The Little Match Girl’ teaches you is you can’t make a living selling matches.”

Feb. 3, 2014
A few highlights from Kate’s application for her school’s safety patrol:
“I would like to be a member of the RW safety patrol because I have, from a younger age, loved to be an authority figure…. Some qualities that I posess that would make me a good (scratch that) GREAT member of the safety patrol is that I am packed with amazing qualities…. I am very RESPONSIBLE, so basically I get to school on time EVERY morning, I turn my school work in on time, and I follow the school rules by showing PAWS and treating everyone, from teachers & staff to visitors & children, with kind words and deep respect. Secondly, I am very sensible, meaning, I don’t hold grudges to get people in trouble, and I can decide the difference between a good & a bad choice…. And lastly, I am very kind. Summing it up, it means that I will definitely speak to a kindergartener in my big sister voice with kind & PATIENT words. It would be the same with 1st graders through 5th graders. Although I probably won’t use the Big Sister voice on the 4th & 5th graders. And those are just 3 out of who knows HOW many great qualities that I posess. So if you choose me, you will be in company with an AMAZING addition to safety patrol. And if you don’t, I will be graceful, but it is a mistake that you will regret for the rest of your life….”

She was an amazing addition to the safety patrol. And to our family.

Thank you, Kate.

Parenting (sloppily)